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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clunie, James Oliphant (1795–1851)

by Louis R. Cranfield

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

James Oliphant Clunie (1795-1851), commandant of convicts, was born on 14 August 1795 at Borthwick, Midlothian, Scotland, the son of Rev. John Clunie, a noted Scottish composer of popular songs and an associate of Robert Burns. Clunie joined the 17th Regiment as an ensign on 27 August 1813 and was promoted lieutenant in December 1814. He served in the American war and was in the unsuccessful attack against General Jacob Brown at Fort Erie in 1814. He was promoted captain in February 1826. The 17th Regiment served in Australia from 1830 to 1836 and Clunie was appointed commandant at Moreton Bay in October 1830. He found the settlement in a state of confusion. Soon after his arrival the previous commandant, Captain Patrick Logan, was killed by hostile Aboriginals and the convicts had long been on the verge of revolt through Logan's extreme severity; it was at least a year before Clunie attained some semblance of order at the station.

Clunie was severely strict towards the convicts when circumstances required, but at other times showed acts of kindness which were totally unknown in Logan's time. Gradually life became more bearable at Moreton Bay, and on his return to Sydney in November 1835 the Sydney Gazette could comment: 'Captain Clunie unites in his own person those two rare attributes to be met with conjointly … namely, that of a rigid disciplinarian, and a mild and humane gentleman. The consequence has been that since the time he took the command at Moreton Bay, we have heard of none of those tumultuous risings, and murderous doings among the prisoners there, which distinguished his predecessor's reign of terror: and which have since occasionally marked the character of the Sister Settlement of Norfolk Island'.

On leaving Moreton Bay, Clunie acted for a time as a magistrate in Sydney and later served in India. He was promoted major in June 1838 and lieutenant-colonel in August 1843. He commanded the 3rd Regiment in the battle of Punniar, India, in December 1843, and next year was appointed C.B. He died at Edinburgh on 27 July 1851.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10, 15, 16
  • Sydney Gazette, 17 Nov 1835
  • United Service Magazine, 1851, pt 3.

Citation details

Louis R. Cranfield, 'Clunie, James Oliphant (1795–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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